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Bush Balks at Criticism of D.C. Mayor

From Associated Press

The White House put some distance today between President Bush and drug policy coordinator William J. Bennett’s criticism of District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry Jr. and his handling of drug-related crime.

“We are in this to solve the drug problem, not to pick fights,” said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater when asked if Bush was ready to second Bennett’s criticism.

“This is a very serious problem that has to be worked out with the authorities that were elected and charged with dealing with these problems,” the presidential spokesman said.

Asked if the President supports Bennett, Fitzwater replied, “Absolutely. He supports everything Bennett says and does.”

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Bennett’s Contention Rejected

Barry said he welcomed the federal government’s planned major drive on drug-related crime in the capital but rejected Bennett’s contention that his Administration’s poor performance made the intervention necessary.

Bennett’s plan, announced Monday, calls for construction of pretrial detention and prison facilities, expansion of a local law enforcement task force, efforts to rid public housing of drug users and dealers, expansion of drug treatment facilities and an increase in job training programs.

However, the D.C. government will receive no direct funding. Instead, Bennett said, the effort’s $70-million to $80-million estimated cost will come from existing federal programs.

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“I’ve said this as frankly as possible--the local government has not acted in as responsible a way as it should,” Bennett said. “The plain fact is that, for too long and in too many respects, the D.C. government has failed to serve its citizens.”

Under Federal Investigation

Barry, who is under federal investigation for his relationships with a suspected cocaine dealer, went on NBC-TV’s “Today” show this morning to defend the local anti-drug effort.

“The D.C. government, I think, has been vigorous. We’ve had more people arrested than any other city in America--over 12,000 people in jail, getting longer sentences.”

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